• January 27, 2016


For some reason the newspaper in which I publish the column OUTSIDE LEFT generally likes to plant its own header so last week’s column was ‘The leaks that came to union’. A slight misprint and it could have been construed as an article about market-gardening!

The article focused heavily on my period as a Union Official which lasted from 1986 until 2006 although listening to the pundits you would think it actually ran from the Russian revolution to the Miners strike!

Lazy government record keeping however did not simply cover industrial matters and in my unedited comment (the edit by the way is for word space reasons) I highlighted other areas as well such as the nationalist period and I touched once again on the fact that dissatisfaction in the Police in the early eighties led to some serious leaks from that area. These days of course discontented cops simply post stuff on Facebook which disappears!

Also of interest at the time were the commercial shenanigans involving government as of course, just like now, the government of the day were ladling out our money willy-nilly not always to best purpose.

Our focus on government however was industrial and as in our view they were ‘the enemy’ of working people. I entitled my original article KNOW YOUR ENEMY.

It may seem an emotive title but I thought then the government were the enemy of working people committed only to lining the pockets of their business mates. I still hold to that view with this government even more so – although not being active in the Union scene anymore maybe the current crop of Union activists are more pragmatic.

Anyway for twenty years the Union movement here never gave the Employers including the government an inch and I think because of that there was a mixture of sharp disdain and healthy respect depending on who you dealt with.

What I did garner from that period is that (successive) governments will always inflict pain when economic circumstances force them to on working people and those on low incomes – nothing has changed!

Anyway the original article is below although have retained one newspaper edition edit towards the end…for legal reasons!


‘Joined up government’ something apparently the current administration aspires to but is it such a good thing?

Government certainly wasn’t joined up (either from a parliamentary of administrative perspective) when I first started dealing with it back in the late 70s. I wasn’t active in the Union then my vehicles for ‘engaging the State’ were the Celtic League (CL), Mec Vannin (CL) and the AMA.

I was always fortunate in knowing what government was thinking because as with the Constabulary info (a la Dogberry) mentioned in an earlier article despite attempts to retain confidentiality people always had a motivation or grudge to release information. So around about the 1980s an item of correspondence from the Government Secretary’s Office (laboriously copied by hand) came to my attention. I can’t remember the exact text now but, if you have a month of two to spend, you will find all this stuff filed with the Celtic League papers at MNH. However, basically it said:

‘We keep getting queries from a J B Moffatt in various guises (I like that word) i.e. Celtic League, Mec Vannin or the AMA we could do with finding out more about them. The CL publishes a magazine CARN which is stocked by Frank Quayle’s in Peel I suggest copies are procured. Note: purchase using petty cash to avoid attention”.

This is where I come to the ‘joined up government’ bit because at the time as Secretary of the local branch of the League I was corresponding with the Tynwald library asking it to subscribe to CARN. If they had taken a sub and been ‘joined up’ they could have strolled along the corridor to the library. Alternatively they could have visited the Museum Library which acquired copies as they were printed from about 1973.

Of course government I suppose got a bit more ‘joined up’ after the Ministerial system came in. However records in the mid eighties and for the next decade were still for the most part paper and my word they generated loads! By this time I was the Union Official (‘that mans worse than Scargill’). I was enjoying together with my colleagues great success obviously because the government people we dealt with were weak and stupid NO! Or we were very shrewd and adept NO!

You guessed it! It was down to good old ‘paper intelligence’. The Ministerial system and the Whitley Council Employers and other bodies just spewed out paper a rain forest of it. The Whitley (Employers) had their own minutes; they sent briefing notes to the employers and received responses. They assessed our position and set out theirs. Chief Officers met separately they had sub groups cue another paper mountain, finally of course COMIN, in the days before it published its minutes, was ‘a whirling dervish’ of paper flying between Chief Minister, Chief Secretary and Executives. There was just one problem with all that paperwork flying around some (in fact loads) was bound to be leaked.

So we were not industrial relations geniuses we were just well informed indeed we knew some things before the Employers knew it themselves. We also saw something’s we were never supposed to see. This ‘happy time’ went on for over a decade.

I have to confess going into pay talks with an employer when you not only know their bottom line but also their top line was a bit like shooting fish in a barrel.

Government were so perplexed about our insight that ruling out clairvoyance they seriously contemplated the possibility we were bugging them (a la Gene Hackman in ‘The Conversation’). It wasn’t that implausible because at that time they found a bug in a meeting room at the DHPP. But it was definitely; hand on heart, not us. We eschewed such subterfuge to the extent that a Union member (now moved on to greater things!) who procured a recording briefcase was told in no uncertain fashion not to use it!

Then disaster! Sometime around the mid/late 90s a decision was taken to cut down on paperwork, save money, store and transmit government files electronically. The game was well and truly up for us! But we had a good run! Anyway with FOI subterfuge within government should have become a thing of the past?”

Photograph: Bernard Moffatt- still after all these years reading government ‘bull-silt’!


Issued by: The Celtic News



The Celtic League established in 1961 has branches in the six Celtic Countries. It promotes cooperation between the countries and campaigns on a range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, military activity and socio-economic issues


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